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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Fourth Style Frescos of the Casa del Principe di Napoli, Regio VI, 7,8 in Pompeii.

Fourth Style Frescos of the Casa del Principe di Napoli, Regio VI, 7,8 in Pompeii.

Note:  This is a crosspost from my blog "Antiquities Exhibits."
I am working on the illustrations for my translation of Houses in Pompeii, Volume 1, Casa del Principe di Napoli and have also uploaded the color photographs of its Fourth Style frescos from the book to Wikimedia Commons so they can be used for teaching and research independent of the embedded images in the book. (Under U.S. law these images are in the public domain because the original artist has been deceased for more than 70 years.)
Roman wall paintings in Pompeii are divided into four periods that were originally delineated and described by the German archaeologist August Mau, 1840–1909. These periods are usually referred to as First, Second, Third, and Fourth but are also known as Incrustation, architectural, ornamental, and intricate. Wall paintings were not only used for decoration, as Roman interiors often had no windows, but were used as a guide to function and social orientation for invited guests as well as the public at the morning salutatio. They also reflected the social status of the household.
The First style, also referred to as structural, incrustation or masonry style, was most popular from 200 BCE until 80 BCE and attempted to imitate Hellenistic culture and the Ptolemaic palaces of the Near East. Extremely wealthy Romans inset expensive stone like marble into the walls while the less fortunate had their walls painted to resemble marble. The marble-like look was acquired by the use of stucco moldings, which caused portions of the wall to appear raised. Other simulated elements such as suspended alabaster discs in vertical lines, 'wooden' beams in yellow and 'pillars', 'cornices' in white and the use of vivid color also combined to achieve the effect. Examples of the First Style include the House of the Faun and the House of Sallust in Pompeii.
The Second style, architectural style, or 'illusionism' that dominated the 1st century BCE retained the look of marble but painted walls with faux architectural features and trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye) compositions. Painters wanted to give off the illusion that the viewer was looking through a window at the scenery depicted. They also added objects that are commonly seen in real life such as vases and shelves along with items that appeared to be sticking out of the wall. During the reign of Augustus, the style evolved. False architectural elements opened up wide expanses with which to paint artistic compositions. A structure inspired by stage sets developed, whereby one large central tableau is flanked by two smaller ones. One of the most recognized examples is the Dionysiac mystery frieze in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii.
The Third style or ornate style, popular around 20–10 BCE departed from illusionistic devices and, instead, obeyed strict rules of symmetry dictated by the central element, dividing the wall into 3 horizontal and 3 to 5 vertical zones. The vertical zones would be divided up by geometric motifs or bases, or slender columns of foliage hung around candelabra. In this particular style, more wall space is left plainly colored, with no design. When designs were present, they tended to be small, plain pictures or scenes such as a candelabra or fluted appendages. Delicate motifs of birds or semi-fantastical animals appeared in the background. Plants and characteristically Egyptian animals were often introduced, part of the Egyptomania in Roman art after Augustus' defeat of Cleopatra and annexation of Egypt in 30 BCE. These paintings were decorated with delicate linear fantasies, predominantly monochromatic, that replaced the three-dimensional worlds of the Second Style. The Villa of Livia in Prima Porta outside of Rome (c. 30–20 BCE) is considered a good example.
The Fourth style revived large-scale narrative painting and panoramic vistas while retaining the architectural details of the Second and First Styles. In the Julio-Claudian phase (c. 20–54 CE), a textile-like quality dominates and tendrils seem to connect all the elements on the wall. The colors warm up once again, and they are used to advantage in the depiction of scenes drawn from mythology, landscapes, and other images. Although the House of the Prince of Naples was once decorated in earlier styles, researchers think the house was totally repainted about 50 CE based on comparisons of its paintings with those of other more precisely dated structures like the House of the Silver Wedding. The House of the Prince of Naples is considered in the book to be a rather modest dwelling of a family of the lower middle class but I am not convinced of that. Some comparisons are made to the House of the Vetti in the same Regio as The House of the Prince of Naples but that would be like comparing Bill Gates mansion with a successful doctor or corporate manager's house today and I certainly would not consider those people "lower middle class." Sometimes I think 20th century archaeologists were so focused on palaces and the trappings of kings or the extremely wealthy that they lost sight of the reality of reasonably successful but not necessarily "elite" members of society.


Image: Triclinium North Wall in the House of the Prince of Naples, Regio VI, 7,8 in Pompeii.

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